“I Sing the Body Electric”*
Pieces of thick, broken glass suspended by nylon thread from the ceiling like precious stone crystals, the size of fists; the air condensed with mist, fluorescent tubes radiating faint red light – just enough for the audience members to find their way to sit on the pedestals encircling the scenery: the floor paved with black dance marley, heavy molleton partly covering the white walls, a musician standing in one of the corners; laptop, mixers and electronic sound device spread out on a desk in front of him, the three performers sitting casually on the floor in close proximity, their eyes seemingly gazing into nothingness, except there is no nothingness: the space feels charged with an energy that hasn’t revealed itself to me yet. This could be the end of something. Something none of us sudden intruders has witnessed. I catch myself looking up at the glass mobile again. What is it? A purely ornamental stage set? Or the knuckles that became clouds? Knuckles. I chew on the bony, mountainous texture of the word, this fragile and simultaneously rigid structure that allows a body to move fluidly, to articulate, to locomote. Hanging up there over our heads, isolated, bare, they have already shape-shifted into clouds, they’ve made themselves immortal by storing all the knowledge of past lives and transformed existence within…
The unexpected light change flushes away my sudden burst of melancholy. The three performers abruptly gather into a clump – almost against their own will – as if a magnet had suctioned their bodies into a maelstrom of sensuality. Their limbs and heads are craving connection, they are filled with the desire to sense skin, bones, nails, hair, the synthetic fabric of their semi-transparent tulle tops. Their attitude, however, remains dispassionate, dissociated, as if the only reason for contact was to get a sense of where their own body ends: a purely self-centred exploration of alienated otherness. Meandering between an amicable wrestle, a slightly trivial ménage-à-trois, a confused swarm of bees not knowing in which direction to fly. I start to hear them breathe more heavily but right before one would expect some sort of climax, they retreat from one another and indulge in the aftermath of their sensory excursion. The space is bathed in noise that reminds me of water turning to ice. The sound, coming from all four corners of the room, so crisp you could touch it. The three approach each other again and sing “Standing on my feet” in unison, followed by “Looking at the tubes” a few moments later. They embark on another journey together, one of playfulness, maybe shallowness? The brighter lighting now also reveals enigmatic drawings on their foreheads, ankles and wrists. With leg movements and gestures reminiscent of folk dance, they continue to seed short melodic sentences here and there: “I’m playing a game online”, “Yeah, yeah, yeah”, “It’s so much fun” – their faces still devoid of any expression. They keep sharing these tiny anecdotes that appear and disappear, as if they ran out of battery after each phrase. Watching them, my taste buds are constantly being tickled and I find myself secretly longing for a full meal. Am I, though? Or am I celebrating the thrill of hunger remained unsatisfied? I am surprised how easily I am seduced by the performers’ alluring indifference. Is this an ironic nod to Gen-Y-whateverness? An honest portrait of a society loosed from its existential moorings?
The next sequence brings the trio around a light bulb under a suspended microphone. The light reacts to the amplitude of their voices like flames react to air. Maybe this is what romantic bonfire nights in the matrix will look like one day? In the universe where knuckles become clouds, though, this does not result in excess or an exuberant orgy. The trio dissolves, each performer entering their own magic microcosm of which they allow us to catch a vague glimpse: they let their bodies tremble on low voltage, they reorganise their anatomical maps and indulge in ramifications that remain undisclosed. They seem to pursue a routine unknown to us, a cycle with an endlessness to it, governed by a superior system with its own rules until the movement, the sound and the light fade out. The end doesn’t even come as a surprise, it is an unagitated, unpretentious end that feels like the end of the road that turns into a path leading into a meadow, or the ocean, or outer space, into a horizonless infinity, that we – the audience – won’t be part of. I want to join them. I clap and stand up unwillingly. Can we rewind to the beginning? I wish I could flip back to the first page. To be moved, to feel destabilised, to get high again. Knuckles become clouds is full of amusing and terrifying declarations about the (post)human condition, full of unobtrusive elegies about our self-absorbed behaviour, our culture of disposability whose meaning evaporates the moment it is manifested. A prismatic and delicately drawn portrait of our emotional state during these strange early days of the 21st century.
* Poem by Walt Whitman, 1855.
Malika Fankha studied theatre in Zurich and contemporary dance in Salzburg (SEAD) and at NYU (Tisch School of Performing Arts). She works internationally as a dancer, choreographer, sound poet and DJ. Using multiple narratives with both body and voice, she spectrums the utopian and dystopian characteristics of popular media culture, posthumanism and trivia while at the same time declaring everything to be within the textual, visual and emotive space of poetry. www.malikafankha.com
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